We do.


The facilitator asks the group, “Who decides whether this will be an enriching class.”

Some, including the facilitator, respond in unison, “We do.”

The facilitator asks the group again, “Who decides whether this will be an enriching class.”

More respond in unison, “We do.”

The facilitator asks for a third time, “Who decides whether this will be an enriching class.”

Most respond in unison, “We do.”

Then, we begin.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

I Hate Stevie Nicks


Special Thanks to @StevieNicks https://twitter.com/StevieNicks and to @DollyParton https://twitter.com/DollyParton . Also to @_KennyRogers https://twitter.com/_KennyRogers and to Elanore Madden, http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5209222_music-affect-memory_.html and http://www.emedexpert.com/tips/music.shtml

My first real boyfriend, Ben Marks, was beaten up repeatedly as a kid by multiple boyfriends of his drug addicted mom. There is one incident he recalls of his face pushed beneath a steam radiator. He could see just a hairy forearm, bent at its elbow. In the Eighties, he spent time at a behavorial health treatment center in Philadelphia called The Bridge. According to Ben, the center incessantly played the song Bridge Over Troubled Water, by Simon and Garfunkel. As an adult, Ben could not, would not, listen to anything S & G, not in a car, not at the bar. We would leave a restaraunt that had the track playing, or move to another beach if we could hear any tinkle of the two Seventies singers. Ben’s favorite song, though was Songbird, by Fleetwood Mac, released in 1977. When Ben and I broke up, I made my Rumours cassette tape warble from overplaying, and over-rewinding, just that last track on side 1, Songbird.

Last night I met a man with his wife at a Karaoke house party in Stowe, Vermont. As Fleetwood Mac, and subsequently Stevie Nicks fanatics, my sister and I suggested that we sing the rockin’ Stevie Classic, Edge of Seventeen. John spoke, “Oh God, no. I hate Stevie Nicks, I hate Fleetwood Mac.” A chorus of incredulity and what, what are you talking abouts responded.

“But, John, ‘Landslide!?’, ‘Stand Back’, ‘You Make Lovin’ Fun’?” Christie turned herself into our circle to face John, arms straight at her sides, hands stiffly bent at her wrists to be perpendicular with the floor.

“Songbird,” I added, arm at my side, bent at the elbow, my pointer finger pointed up.

“Wait, wait, there’s a story.” John protested. Carrie, standing next to me, laughed, insisting that we listen to John plead his case.

“When I was fourteen, I went to my first real party, like the parents weren’t going to be there party. There were 8 guys and 5 girls.”

“That’s good odds,” I interrupted. John arched his brow.

“8 guys to 5 girls,” he said again. I had misheard.

“Good odds for me, then…” I quipped.

John smiled and resumed. “So there I was in my dress shirt, and pants, and good shoes, because my mom thought it was a real party, and made me dress up. There I was sitting on the couch with two other guys wearing button down shirts, watching tv, while the guys wearing rock tee shirts were all making out with the girls in the other room. The whole time, we could hear Rumours album playing.” We all laughed. “They just kept flipping it over and over. Anytime, I hear anything remotely related to Fleetwood Mac I am right back there in that living room, an awkward fourteen year old boy, not making out with a girl.”

Carrie leaned in with a lengthy tongue kiss, a little uncomfortably… long. “But now you make out with women.” She said smiling, as they parted.

Christie and I instead decided to sing “Islands in the Stream,” released in 1983, and the second number one pop song for both Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. When it got to the part where Kenny and Dolly sing, “When we rely on each other, uh huh,” Christie and I swung our hips in unison with our arms, bent at the elbows, reaching up to clap in front of our faces. John and Carrie kept kissing. The kids were all dancing. We really had the crowd a’rockin’.






Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


Thanks to Steve_Brady http://www.strategicmonk.com/2014/05/10/power-listening/ https://twitter.com/Steve_Brady AND Congratulations to https://twitter.com/TrinityExecHead Jim Simon M.Ed

“Describe one positive character trait you can attribute to the person sitting to your left. Who wants to start?” I asked. Tayana’s hand went up and she began.

“Fred is funny.”

“Sandella helps me with my work.” Fred stated, as it was his turn next. Sandella looked pleased, then over to her left to contemplate a character trait that she could describe about her friend, Maria.

“Maria is…” she paused, cocked her head, twisted her hair, “she is pretty.” She blurted.

“Pretty is not a character trait, Sandella,” I said, interrupting the flow of our circle question exercise. “And, you’ve heard me say this before, everyone is beautiful. The only time a person can be ugly is when they speak.”

Sandella rolled her big brown eyes, and twisted her hair some more. Another popular student, Zania, spoke up, “Come on, Sandella, go.” And she went.

We continued until everyone sitting in our circle had gone. As we finished, the students asked could we also answer about the person sitting on our right, which we did. There was some good-natured jeering, and some surprises, too. Mabel and Tony argued meanly almost every program. Today, they were sitting next to one another, and when they spoke about each other’s positive traits, each was sincere.

Next, I asked each student to name a character trait that they were proud of in themselves. In the past, this question was hard to glean an answer for from most. But, today, they went right to it. Three hands went up to go first. I chose Rene and she began. Everyone answered thoughtfully, and with minimal embarrassment.

Next, I asked, “OK, great, now this may be harder to share out loud, but I want you to think about a character trait in yourself, that you think needs improvement.”

Of course, Mabel put her hand up first; Mable talks incessantly bad about herself. “OK, Mabel, what character trait do you think needs improvement and in which direction do you want us to travel around the circle with our answers.” She hesitated a moment while deciding in which direction to go, but once she had decided, she quickly said her answer.

“I could have a better attitude.” She said.

“Not listening,” Brandon, sitting to her right, said next.

Zania was seated to the right of Brandon. “I could fight less,” she said. And so on, until we got around and back to Mabel. When it had been my turn to answer, I said that I could be more accepting of other points of view. Imagine that, a little practice of what I preach…

“Now, lastly,” I facilitated, “ I want you to remember the Goal Setting Pyramid exercise we’ve done before.” This is an exercise for adults and children alike, where the primary goal is written at the top of the pyramid. The next line below it has three or four empty spaces, and under each of those spaces are more empty spaces. The idea is to fill in the empty spaces with the little tasks necessary to complete bigger tasks in order to achieve the Big Goal.

“If you place at the top of your Goal Setting Pyramid, ‘Be more accepting of others,’ what is a little goal you can achieve at the beginning of your improving character process? For example, in my case, I said that I wanted to be more accepting of different points of view. One way that I could practice this: I could intentionally enter into a conversation with someone whose opinion I know differs greatly from my own, and then just really listen. Based upon which character trait you said that you wanted to improve in yourself, what is a way in which you could practice better character?”

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Is it Scary

Special thanks to https://twitter.com/Youth_Justice Urban Youth Justice (Youth_Justice) on Twitter and https://twitter.com/YouthJusticeNY Youth Justice Board (YouthJusticeNY) on Twitter and to Coming Soon “From Education to Incarceration: Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline” | Dr. Anthony J. Nocella II


“Joe, are you willing to come and speak about Growing Examples, at my youth program in Parksville. We are talking about entrepreneurship in our nutrition class.”

“Seems a stretch to me, Myrna, but I’d be happy to do it.”

“No, you’ve started this business, you know these kids, and I think you’d be a good fit.”

“OK,” I said.

I set to preparing an hour-long program on Entrepreneurship, including ice-breaker games, a quick, short lecture with a think-pair-share activity, and then small group work that included brainstorming a small business. Did I say I was asked to speak for just one hour?

I arrived the Parksvile Youth Center ten minutes before I was scheduled to begin, and walked into a large converted warehouse or gymnasium, with a skate park to my left, and some pool tables and other table games in an area on my right. Straight ahead sat the long basketball court. The skate park and game tables were empty. Although unusual for this bustling hub of teen angst, and pre teen wonder, this was no surprise. For straight ahead in front of me, covering the gym floor were rows of unfolded folding chairs, and 30-40 kids sitting, arms flailing, voices rising and bouncing off the drop ceiling seemingly a thousand feet above. White skinny arms, and black skinny arms, and fat arms, and Menonite arms attached to bony fingers adjusting her bonnet now. Alot of the kids that come here were skinny, hungry, really. In this blighted town, this Center was well-designed to be a place of nurture and love. And, full of love that I am, and resilient as I am, I still was baffled. I spotted Myrna talking with the Center Director, Dan Short, and made my way to the Visiting Teams’ side of the court.

“Hi Danny,” I said, shaking the tall, dark-skinned, muscular, African American Director’s hand, “Myrna.” Reaching to take Myrna’s hand, I said, “Lots of kids here today. I thought you said that your program had just fourteen?”

“Danny thought it would be good for all the youth to hear your program,” she smiled. Danny smiled.

“Great,” I said. I smiled. Thinking, great, I had prepped for fourteen, and seriously over-planned for that number. OK. I have enough game pieces to do small teams of 12-14. It’s a roll the ball through tubes and not drop it game; each person holds a tube, they form a line, and move the ball through the tubes, down the line. This will work. And then I can just adjust the quick, short lecture part to just the…

“Ready,” Danny asked. I turned my head. My eyes refocused on the two before me.

“Ready,” I said. I was introduced and began. I had the students all count off, and get up from their seats to form lines. WAIT. Did I say, I had been asked to speak for just an hour. (And, btw, to just fourteen, and now their were 3 groups of twelve!) I saw Myrna’s smile wane when I gave the direction to leave our seats!!! As I realized my mistake, I still had to go with it, they were so excited, the kids.

We did a quick game; it was hectic, and fun. And, it was 27 and a half minutes before we were all back sitting quietly in our seats. So, now the quick short lecture, which literally was only about ten minutes long of how I had the idea, and what a board is, and who I hoped to help. I didn’t ask for questions. Instead, I announced that we would split into pairs, and began our think-pair-share activity. I ask a question, youths are asked to answer the question alone, youth are then paired to talk about their answers together, and finally, report back to the group. But WAIT. I’ve only been asked to speak for an HOUR!!! And, now it was 39.5 minutes in. 27.5 for the initial ice-breaker game, then ten minutes of lecture, then two minutes of Think-Pair-Share instructions. Myrna raised her hand.

“Yes, Myrna,” I called.

”Joe, we only have about 20 minutes left. Maybe you’d like to talk a little more about the people you hope to help, and about jail. For instance,” the youth all looked at Myrna, now, waiting, “How many of you know someone who has been to jail or prison, or is in jail or prison right now?”

Voices began, hands shot up, “My Uncle is there now,” “My moms has been there,” “Two of my cousins are upstate.” Skinny white, and black, and Spanish and arms bent at the elbows, like they were doing an over the head shake-weight exercise. One hand held the elbow of the other arm whose fingers stretched up, the arm shaking to and from. One really large red haired boy stood up, placing both hands on thick round thighs, pudgy transluscent fingers digging into his freckled thighs. “I got my two brothers there now, and my Uncle.” He turned as he said it, playing to his audience, smiling.

“Sit down, Michael,” Myrna announced.

“Thanks, Myrna,” I boomed, clapping my hands together three times over my head. “What an awesome question.” A few kids clapped three times back, and I repeated the gesture. “When you hear me clap three times, I want you to clap back three times to me. OK,” I stated. One, two, three. We did this a couple times, and then they were quiet again. I re-stated Myrna’s question and asked that they remain quiet as they raised their hands. More than two thirds of the kids raised their hands. Maybe closer to 3/4. I remembered where I was. Parksville. A once booming industrial Chester County town, now drugs and section 8 and TANF eligible youth at community centers. I asked the kids, did they have any questions for me. Hands were raised in response. I called on a small framed pale girl with short braids.

“What’s it like in jail, is it scary,” she asked.

“It can be,” I said, “But, it can be manageable. What are some things that you think people do in jail?”

We began a conversation then, about expectations, assumptions, rumors, and facts. The twenty minutes left to our time together happened very quick. And, then I was being thanked, and there was applause. Kids folded their chairs, mostly walked them to their storage place, then repopulated the skate park, game tables, and basketball court.

Myrna and Danny thanked me. Myrna said that was the part she that wanted, that poverty leads to incarceration, and that she knew her kids were suffering from both those things. I thanked her, and Danny, and left the center to a white blinding sunlight off the concrete parking lot. The train whistled, passing through town on it’s way to the state capitol. It was the 4:05.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

12 Weeks a Save


Thanks to Programs at http://www.ojjdp.gov/Programs/ProgSummary.asp?pi=18 and About Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) | STTAC http://www.juvenilejustice-tta.org/resources/dmc/about-dmc

12 Weeks a Save

In the Restorative Justice program that I worked in Philadelphia, the African American majority of people I taught were mostly male. Young and old, polite and not so, likeable and so on, black, males on probation and parole. At one time, a group of us were renovating a storefront in Philadelphia’s Gallery Mall. At that point, in that particular program, eight remaining participants were African American and male. I was asked by my supervisor, could we incorporate into our build day another group of men, men fulfilling work-release opportunities. “How many?” I asked. Having been burned by this kind of open-ended request by her before, this was important information.

“Twelve,” was her reply.

“Yes,” I said too quickly. We could actually use the help. But, I also didn’t want to appear so available for future favors.

“OK, they will arrive about 9:15. Make sure that they sign in.”

I knew that. But, “OK, Karen, got it.”

The next morning, our crew arrived at our normal 8:30 start time. Remarkably, 7 out of 8 men were there. I announced that we would be joined by a work-release crew and the guys were amicable to the change up. We were about two months into our nine-month long program.

Two months ago, we had started with 17 in our group: one African American female, three male Latinos, two White males, and eleven Black males. As was par for the course, we had dumped 9 people by 8 weeks in, and we could expect another 2 or 3 to self-select out in the next four weeks. 12 weeks. That’s where I saw success. If, for the first 12 weeks of a nine-month commitment to a program whose end goal is employment, if you could arrive on time, when and where you’re supposed to, and have a mostly good attitude and willingness to learn and to work, then, you will most likely finish the remaining six months and find employment. Figure out how to get through the first twelve weeks; ask for help; don’t self-select out.

We were all working at 9:15 when the work-release guys arrived. As they filed in through the Mall Hallway, Rear Store Exit, every guy was African American. “Please sign in,” I announced, I asked them to sit on the elevated platform we had built butted up to the storefront windows, and I set to address the twelve. As planned, our crew stopped and joined us for introductions, as each of their groups would be assigned guys to work with. Looking out at twenty faces, I smiled and asked, “Does anyone know, does Philadelphia arrest anyone that’s not Black?” Met with laughter, as I had hoped, it is a sad reality of that statement that stays with me.

But, regardless of your race, your age, your gender, Go Twelve Weeks. We’ll teach you where we can. But, show up. Get here. 12 Weeks. And you’re on your path to save yourself.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Super Mom


Thank you to author, Kevin Golembiewski, A Missing Piece in the Fight Against Bullying, http://www.bridge50.com/9/post/2013/11/a-missing-piece-in-the-fight-against-bullying.html

Super Mom

I can’t remember waking up, but can remember thinking, “Oh, no, not another walk to the bus stop.” As a kid, we lived on a cul de sac at the bottom of two hills, a short steep one at the very top of the street, and a longer less steep one leading down to the circle and our house. Renney was a kid who went to my elementary school and he was in third grade. He lived on the next street down, on a smaller street, with a dead end. We shared a bus stop, and if you cut through the Kisches’ backyard, halfway up the steep hill, you could get to Renney’s street. But, I had never been there.

He used to greet me at the top of the long hill. This was as far up the street as I was allowed to go on my bicycle, still in training wheels. His shaggy black curls hung around translucent greenish pale skin, and a black newspaper boy book-bag swung from his left shoulder. He grinned when he saw me, swinging the book bag off his shoulder, and twirling it, hurling it my way, his right hand holding onto the black canvas strap. Whack right into my shoulder, knocking my lanky kindergarten frame to the bright white sidewalk. I hit the ground with my elbow and my Superman back-back. I was surprised, and stood right up, looked at Renney standing there, laughing, and took a deep breath. Then, I cried. And Renney ran up the steep hill to the bus stop. I watched him for a moment, then turned and ran back down the long hill to our house. Although Renney had spent the last two weeks, my first two weeks of going to morning kindergarten at the public elementary school, teasing me about my voice, my size, my crying on the first day of school, the day my mom walked me to the stop to say goodbye, and my sensitive eyes pissed all the way to school. Although he had been bullying me for all this time, this was the first time he had actually made contact. I showed up at the back door, up the wooden steps from the driveway to the kitchen. I knocked quietly. Mom opened the door, sat with me at the kitchen table, and listened as I told her about Renney. She finished cleaning up the sink, packed my brother and I into the 70’s burnt orange colored Mustang and drove me to school.

That afternoon, she took me to a meeting she had scheduled with Renney’s mom, and with Renney. First, Renney’s mom welcomed us into a dark, high-ceilinged living room, and there was ice water. There were plants, and there was wooden carved lattice covering the half circle of glass window above the bay window facing east. It was unadulterated green outside, overcast day, and misty. Second, I was asked to recount the incident, which I did with Mom’s encouragement. Third, Renney’s mom asked him to recount the incident. He told it pretty much the same as I did. He said it was unintentional to actually hit me with the bag but that he was swinging it at me to scare me. We talked about things that scared us then. He had action figure toys in the living room, and vehicles, and he said that aliens scared him. I agreed. But not Superman, I claimed, he was a good alien. Renney agreed; he also like the S man. Next, Renney’s mom asked if him if he thought scaring me was nice. He said no. My mom asked me if it felt good to feel scared, I said, no. He ended up apologizing, and then we played action figures and vehicles.

Go, Moms! They had just facilitated a successful Restorative Justice Conference, in 1976! So avante garde…

After that, Renney and I said hi to one another at the bus stop, sometimes he would even meet me at the top of the long hill, and I’d tag behind him up to the stop. That was one suggestion made during our conference that came to fruition. But, then he and his Mom moved away before the New Year. Come to find out it was just an apartment, his house was, in a broken up larger house. I never did go back to his house though. And, I remember this story and say, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. Thank You for so much, and thanks for getting that kid to stop bullying me.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Acting Out – The Performer

Middle School Students finish their science class, and we begin to move the desks to the perimeter of the classroom; and with their chairs, they form a circle. While sitting in the circle, it is essential that everyone can effortlessly see one another, which in turn ensures that everyone can also be seen. As the facilitator, it is my role to help us guide the discussion and stay to topic. After each of us have responded to an initial Circle Question, I tell this story:

I was speaking today on the phone with our guest, from a few weeks ago. He shared with me that he was trying to figure out what we should do with disruptive students, students in a classroom that demand too much attention from the teacher and command too much attention of their classmates. He had a few ideas, and I shared with him mine, but now I post that same question to you- what do you think we should do with disruptive students?

Hands go up, and I look to Marisol, “Well, what you mean, what weeea should do with them?” She elongated “we” with an up and open “uh” sound at the end.

“Well, anyone,” I answered.

“Like do you mean, like suspension, or just go to the office,” David offered.

Releasing and dropping the strand of Marisols hair she had been twisting, Crystal huffed, uncrossing her leg, and planting both feet on the floor. “He means like the school.”

“Or the teacher, or the school district, or you.” I punctuated the last with a smile, looking around at the eleven 12- and 13-year old faces present in our group today.

Marisol raised her hand again, “Marisol,” I inquired.

“Well, I think that if your disruptive, you should have to go to the office, but that the teacher should be not boring too.”

“OK, so you are ready to answer,” I said smiling. “And which direction do you want to go?” She pointed to Crystal sitting to her right, “OK, so we’ll go right. Do you want to start us off then, Marisol?”

“Uhh, yes.” Huff. That the student should have to go the office. And, the teacher should be talking about interesting stuff.”

“Good, Crystal.” I said, looking to Marisol’s right. Crystal adjusts in her seat.


“Do you have an answer to the question?”


“Well, tell US,” exclaimed Marisol.

“Uh, ok, so I think the student should go to the office.” Crystal replied.

“OK,” I said, but also prompted her, “ but, do you mean on the first offense, like, at the first sign of not following instruction, or…”

“Well, not on the first offense,” Crystal said. Students blurted out their own response to that, saying things like, not the first offense, noooooo, and well, not the first offense but maybe, like the fourth, or something like that…

“OK OK, Let’s remember our circle respect. DO we have to start again,” I asked to a clamor of no’s. “Crystal, is that your final answer,” I asked, mimicking the popular television quote, as the group settled.

Crystal replied again, “go to the office, not on the first offense.”

“Good,” I said. The next person after Crystal was Bea. Bea repeated the same, go to the office, but not on first offense. But she also added, “But, if it’s like the third time that the teacher has to ask you to quiet down, then you need to go out.”

Billy went next, and agreed, go to the office, third offense. “But what if it’s everyday that this student is acting up?” I interjected again.

This time, the group waited for Billy’s response. “Then, the parent’s could be called.” “Parents called,” was repeated. “Then expelled,” someone else blurted.

“Hey, hey. Is that what you would do then with a disruptive student, expel them?” I asked. “Let’s hear from Dex.”

We continued to listen to students respond, but the remaining all finished their answers with, expel them. As soon as the last student had responded and the floor was open for discussion, Marisol complained, “Expell them, just for acting up in class?” It was a question for the group, and Billy answered.

“Yes, expel after they’ve been warned.”

“But, expelled,” Marisol pressed. This time Carl answered, yes, expelled. Kelton, Marie and Langella all said expel in unison.

As the students volleyed with their arguments, it was clear, the dawning realization on the face of Marisol. You see, Marisol was the disruptive student. She was smart, she was tall, she was heavyset, and good looking, and she did command a presence in a room. But, here we were, and one after another, her peers were saying that if a student is always disruptive, that student should be gone. They weren’t saying it to her about her, not remarkably, but of the eleven, only one girl said no to expulsion. That girl was on the outside of Marisol’s clique, and admired her all the more. Two students didn’t have a final answer. But, seven out of eleven did. They said, very clearly, if you are going to act up in class, and take time away from the other students, that you should be expelled. And Marisol, the student that does disrupt their class often, got to hear it from them, safely. It was a great discussion. Next discussion, though, we will springboard from performer to audience. For, if there were no audience…

(Disclaimer: Today’s discussion held innocent the students who turn in their chair to laugh, or stop working themselves when a student acts out. This is a common thread of our discussions and a worthy one. But, today too, was worthy, and important for Marisol to hear, and for all of us to hear.)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment